These past couple of weeks, I really got to enjoy one of the greatest benefits of being retired or financially independent. I got to speak out on a subject that many are terrified to. I didn’t say anything controversial, or even take an overly contrarian position on anything. All I did was spark a conversation in my community. I’m really glad I did, but in the process I was awakened to the reality that today, speaking up on anything counter-narrative is nearly impossible for most.
In summary, all I did was write a letter to my city’s council, pointing out many statistics that didn’t substantiate the current unique rules being applied to our particular region. I also pointed out an obvious flaw in the rules that could actually backfire and create more problems than it would solve (this was specifically related to having inconsistent rules that will likely encourage inter-district travel, inadvertently increasing possible spread of viruses).
Anyhow, I received lots of support, but I equally received much anger for having even questioned the idea of lockdowns in general. This didn’t surprise me at all. Many made very valid arguments. The best one being that “two wrongs don’t make a right” meaning many people think we are doing the right thing by staying locked down and every other region is being too risky by opening up. I respected these points, even if I didn’t agree with them. My biggest issue was the inconsistencies being applied, so in part I even agreed with some of my adversaries.
But back to my opening point. I created a wave in my small community and sparked a much needed conversation. I was happy about accomplishing my goal, but the social cost was not free. In the process, I probably upset many people. Likely because I made them take a side on an issue when they would much rather sit on the fence. I don’t blame them. The media has been sensationalizing every single aspect of COVID, and will not flinch at the opportunity to attack a politician if they propose anything different.
In my past life as a career-person, I would not have been able to take a stand on this. In my previous roles, I could never risk upsetting even a quarter of my community, because that could include my clients, my coworkers or even my boss. Although today, I never have the goal of upsetting people, I don’t have to worry about my opinion being unpopular.
In essence, that is one of the greatest advantages of being retired. I don’t have to face an awkward co-worker or boss on Monday morning to explain why I was in the newspaper. I don’t have a small business so I don’t have to risk alienating a quarter of my clientele because I took an unpopular position. I’m not a politician so I don’t need at least 50% of my constituents to always agree with everything I say.
I want to share a very important Chinese proverb that I often think about these days:
“A wise man makes his own decisions, an ignorant man follows public opinion.”
I think today more than ever, public opinion is a little too important, and people should not be scared to have their own opinion. I find the best way to do this is as follows:
1. Tune out the news as much as you can.
2. If you hear about new revelations or striking proclamations from a friend or on Facebook (i.e. new COVID Variant being way deadlier or more transmissible. Or that vaccines are somehow dangerous) go do your own research but be skeptical of what you read. Try and find actual studies from medical journals not anecdotal experiences. The news will often give you the sexy anecdotal stories, and will often leave out the boring peer-reviewed data. Especially, if it does not fit what they are trying to say.
3. Don’t be afraid to speak. Even if it is just in private. Tell people how you feel.
4. If you feel strongly about something, write letters and emails to the people who are supposed to represent you. Almost everyone’s email is online these days. Email your local city counsellor, your school board trustee, your MPP, your MP. Voice your concern. You are more powerful than you think. You may not change anyone's mind but you can start conversations.
5. Don’t allow others to put you down for asking questions. A striking comment I received many times over the last couple of weeks was “You're not a doctor so you can’t question a doctor’s decision”. I understood this argument but I don’t agree with it. When many health experts themselves have such vastly different opinions on the current topics, everyday people should be asking them “Why?”. If doctor A told me to take one pill and doctor B said to take another pill, I will always ask them why?
There are way too many examples in the past that show the possible atrocities that can happen when society refuses to question those in authority. Even the apparent “experts”. So we should never stop asking questions. When I parent my children, I am the expert in the relationship, but I will never discourage them from asking me questions.